I've had a considerable amount of time lately to contemplate the backs & sides of my fellow performers; the piece that we are doing has six characters, all of whom are positioned somewhere on the set for the entire two acts.  The playwright, in his wisdom, has concocted a scenario in which the lone male paces about the downstage half of the stage while confronting each of the five women whom he must interview turn and turn about.  Each woman emerges from the dim upstage and then retreats to her chair when the man takes on his next interview.  In practical terms this means one or more of the women is going to be in view of the audience, but quasi motionless in half darkness for up to 45 minutes at a stretch. Without going into a blow by blow description of the work, let's just say that this is an unavoidable challenge which—while hard on the actors—is required by the storyline.   

Now the question: what does one do with that 'down time'? Everybody's heard the joke about the guy who only auditions for roles in which he dies in the first act, gets to lie dead on a comfortable couch and then spends the rest of the play in the pub across the street until called back for curtain calls.  In this work, you can't do that, you have to be 'present' if for no other reason than that it would be somewhat upsetting were you to fall asleep & slip out of your chair.  

My position in this mélange was a bit complicated by the fact that not only was I smack dab center stage, but I had previously done this play not once but twice & was as a result excruciatingly familiar with the script.  I sought therefore, to do double or even triple duty from my perch on a somewhat regal red velvet armchair.  Without really planning it, I began a pattern of mental & physical shifting during the others' scenes which involved waiting for subtle signs from them that they were OK, because to tell the truth, as of opening night, they really weren't. They were afraid of losing their places & drying, and both those were happening & so somehow I ended up feeling like some sort of Queen Mother back there, giving them psychic massages & watching the progress of the plot & countering their difficulties with onslaughts of positive energy, all the while (one hopes) not being obvious about it.  My character has a great vested interest in the goings on, yet retains a formal bearing as befits the lady of the manor.

Well, funny thing, after 4 & a half weeks of that, one night I abruptly gave it up and read my book instead—I'm supposed to be somewhat of a reader anyway: Byron or Rosetti, something wicked—so it felt OK.  And the rest, they're on their own.    

Wayside Lane

I once started a play about my next door neighbor Valerie
and her goofy friend, Yvonne
(she pronounced it Yuhvonne)
they ran with the white lipstick crowd, smoking
making out every chance they got
basically every weekend  

Yvonne's four front teeth fascinated me
obviously false
a different color
For years I had been curious
to see my father without his uppers
no way in hell that was going to happen:
he'd as soon show me his penis  

Yvonne was in my gym class
she and Val would crouch
in front of the mirror
at the end of the row of lockers
ratting handfuls of distressed hair
Maybe her teeth would start bothering her
she'd have to adjust them  

My grand'mère tucking me in
gabbling away in French
once yanked out her yellowed plate
held it beside her cheek
and just as quickly
clapped it back into place
cackling madly  

Yvonne gave herself to guys
to paw in backseats--
while they were trading gum
maybe they dislodged her teeth sometimes
and she had to sit up to keep from swallowing them.

In tribute to my lone sleep-over at Val's
If I get back to writing my play I'll call it
"Cut the Cheese"
I was clueless had no idea
Yvonne snorting laughter
her lip curling up above those teeth

©2004 Claudine Jones

For more commentary and articles by Claudine Jones, check the Archives.

Like an orthopedic soprano, Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has
worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades.  With her
co-conspirator Jaz Bonhooley, she also has developed unique sound designs
for local venues.  As a filmmaker, she is doing the final cut of YOUR EAR IS
IN YOUR NOSE, destined for release next year or whenever her long time
technical task wizard Animator Sam Worf gets his head out of his
latest render.


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